tv Union General Henry Halleck CSPAN August 18, 2017 3:14am-4:04am EDT
eastern. next, john marszalek. he argues that hallek was involved in every political and major decision made during the civil war. this is about an hour. >> john marszalek taught courses on the civil war, america and the race reactions. he joined the faculty at mississippi state in 1973. during his time at mississippi
state he also served as director and mentor of distinguished scholars and as executive director and managing editor of the you'grant papers. he's the author of -- he received the richard wright literary award for lifetime achievement by a mississippi author. and the mississippi historical society presented him its highest award, the blc whales award for national distinction and history. he's currently working on a book of the myth aelg surrounding robert e. lee. today he'll be sharing with us some of his more recent work.
dr. marszalek. >> i thought i was dead. she took my notes. what was i going to do. well, thank you for all being here so early on a saturday morning. this is great. i'm going to talk to you about -- and imagine scheduling a talk on henry halleck this early in the morning. it was quite a while ago actually the book came out. and i had gone to a meeting actually at one of these history conventions and exchanged the usual pleasantries with people, and then you get down to the usual question, well, what are you working on now. well, i ran into a colleague and
goes what are you working on, what are you working on. and i told him i'd just started working on a biography of henry w. halleck. and he said john, you'll never finish it. you'll die of boredom first. i must say the fear of death was not high on my priority list. although i have to admit i did check my pulse pretty regularly. but i really had more concrete concerns. and the concerns really were i'd finished this book on sherman -- so a huge amount of writing. he'd written memories, all kinds of articles. so i had a ton of stuff to use in that biography.
well, the issue of halleck was different. i was unaware at that time of any correspondence except of what was in the or. i knew that he'd written or edited a series of books. but this was before the war. and they were technical publications. and they were things like dealing with. and you can imagine halleck doing this, intricacies of property rights, international law, military theory. so how was i going to get into the mind of this man of great pre-war accomplishment. no question about this. he had served longer than anyone else as you know during the civil war, on either side.
no one had been commanding general that long as henry w. halleck. he was indeed considered the leading military thinker of that period. he was an important military figure in the civil war. early in the war he orchestrated the union's success in the missouri, kentucky, tennessee area. he organized and over saw the opening union's triumph in the western theater system. he evp had something to do with the battle of pea ridge of all places. he helped save sherman from the grip of depression. why? because he handled them properly, handled them delicately. but, again he's the same man that almost lost -- when halleck
took, that achievement was consider said so important, he did such a great thing that his soldiers gave him the nickname old brains because he captured that site and he hardly lost any soldiers in the process. and it was then that abraham lincoln called him to washington to become the commanding general. in that role henry w. halleck was involved in one way or another in every major battlefield decision. he advised. he conjoeled, encouraged or in
some cases pick picked up the pieces. when grant assumed over all command in march of 1864, halleck stayed on. he was the chief of staff. he was like a general to grant. he took the burdens off grants shoulders. and it was halleck more than anybody else who forged that mighty military machine that finally overwhelmed the confederate forces. in short i think it's fair to say halleck played a major role. he was a major general, had an important influence on the
nation's political leaders. no other military man was as central to the civil war as was henry w. "old brains" halleck. most of you are saying, oh, gee, that's nice. who cares? well, that's the usual attitude. that's the usual response we get. over the years most historians have not had a positive evaluation of this man. i think it's fair to say historians have vied with one another to come up with ingenious ways to denigrate henry w. halleck. we heard about buchanan, nasty things about buchanan can't compare to what was said about henry w. halleck. for example, a quote, halleck by nature was not only stupid but
jealous and hambitiouambitious. he was a witless peasant. that's pretty strong stuff. t. harry williams, a wonderful book, the lincoln and the generals and he said quote, halleck has a reputation of being the most unpopular man in washington. it was a title he worked hard to gain. warming to the task t. harry said, quote, because of his eyes which williams described as, quote, bulging, fishy, watery
and dull. a lot of gossips in washington thought he was an opium eater. i'm not sure we've ever said that about buchanan but we sure said that about halleck. now, i've just given you a couple here, but there's ton of things by certain historians. but they pale in comparison of what was said about him by his contemporaries. the negative view of halleck is absolutely overwhelming. you'd really have to look hard to find anybody in american history who's had such ingenious contempt expressed against him. which is ironic, because during the war the two leading leaders on the union side liked halleck. grant called him, quote, one of the greatest men of the age. sherman believed, quote, he was
the direct ingenuous behind union military successes. now, in all fairness, however, by the end of the war neither grant nor sherman liked halleck a great deal. because they found what some of the things he was doing. now, most other union generals were negative about halleck from the very beginning. joe hooker, who had this great name, never was a friend of hallecks. not in california when they were together and never in the civil war. as only hooker could, he ridiculed halleck's heavy administrative role and his unwillingness to take the fields. you may have heard this quote.
halleck serving as commanding general said, hooker, serving under those conditions was like a man who got married never intending to sleep with his wife. i didn't make that up. that's what hooker said. george b. mcclellan. mcclellan who had little good to say about anybody, other than himself, i suppose, become positively lyrical in his disdain for halleck. quote, of all the men who have encountered in high position, says mcclellan in his autbiography, halleck was the most hopelessly stupid.
it was more difficult to get an idea through his head than anyone who ever made the attempt. i do not think he ever had a correct military idea from beginning to end. well, you know, those kind of condemnations when added with the condemnations of historians, you know, bad enough. but they still don't reach the level of invective displayed by halleck's political contemporary, the people he d t dealt with in washington. bluff b. wade, quote, put halleck in charge of 20,000 men and he will not scare three sitting geese from their nests. adam gurousky, the senning
polish born described it as, quote, the strangling pressure of an incubus. i had to look incubus up. and that's an evil spirit. so that says something. but that's not the two most inventive comments. you can decide. you can pick which ones you like the best. but the two most inventive critics of halleck were still another politician and this time a political general. namely a secretary named gideon wells and benjamin butler. wells despised old brains with a passion. here's what he wrote in his diary. quote, in this whole summer's campaign halleck originates
nothing, anticipates nothing, takes no responsibility, plans nothing, suggests nothing, is good for nothing. general ben butler agrees. and his prose is similarly inventive, i think. you may know that halleck translated onto an onery -- -- on napoleon. and butler used that. he said when every true man is laboring to his utmost, when the days ought to be 40 hours long general halleck is translating french books at 9 cents a page.
and sir, if you should put those 9 cents in a box and shake them up, you would form a clear idea of general halleck's soul. wow, would you love to have that said about you? and in alcohol fact he translated in the 1840s, when he was on a ship. he actually braced himself, tied himself to a bedpost so he wouldn't slip, and he was translating it that time. so who was this henry halleck then if i'm saying there's more to him than that? well, he was born in 1815. he's the first of 13 children of a farmer and a daughter of a local magistrate. and they were all from up state new york, westernville.
until he was 16, halleck lived a very unhappy childhood. the reason for it was because he could not get out from under his father who wanted him to work on that farm. that's all he wanted him to do. halleck wanted an education. so what halleck had to do to escape this agricultural drudgery, he went to live with his maternal grandfather when he was able to give halleck the education he so wanted. at the age of 20, halleck went to west point. but while he's at west point, he's finishing his degree at union college in new york. and he gets his degree while he's in the middle of his west point years. and he also gets one of the first phi-beta cappa keys.
halleck gave the fourth of july address at west point. this was an honor that was left only for the best military and academic scholars. he graduated in 1838, a mere third in his class. and by the way, the two people ahead of him didn't do a thing during the civil war. he so impressed the faculty, that while he was still a cadet, henry halleck was teaching classes to other west point cadets. when he graduated they immediately named him an assistant professor of chemistry and engineering. in 1841 he published what was his first of many books. wonderful title.
-- it's varieties and properties in use. very learned book, and no doubt very sentilating. i have to admit i've never read it. but it deals with a -- that book and the fact he was the one who fortified new york harbor and served as an assistant to the new york board of engineers resulted in an offer from harvard university to become an assistant professor there. he wanted to stay in the army. he received an honoraries masters degree from union college. he made a trip to europe in 1844 to inspect one of the french
fortifications. this fame in turned caused the lol institute invited him to give lectures. not to give one measly lecture but 12 lectures, one night after the next. filled the hall every night. these lectures were later gathered together and published in his major book, elements of military art and science, which came out in 1846. now, keep in mind when that book came out, all these things that happened before, he is 31 years old. so he travels to -- he stayed in the army, travels. the mexican war comes, he travels to california. and sherman is one of his bunk
mates on this terrible ride they have, waves, going up and down and et cetera. he didn't waste any time. everybody else is playing cards and all the rest. he's translating four novels. and he creates that four volume english version that you can still get if you like up here in 1864. and they were going to monterey, california. a very important area of the war. when he gets there, there's still fighting to be done. so he participates in some local level fighting. and he does very well. he's a very good, small unit commander. he also serves as secretary of state for the entire territory of california after he becomes part of the united states.
and he serves under several military governors. and if that's not enough to keep him busy, he also is collecting spanish manuscripts. he's translating mexican law relative to california land holding into publications. he helps form the marriage law firm in california, halleck, peaching and billings. he supervises the construction of a four-story building that was built out in the field of san francisco harbor. and he came up with the brilliant idea of actually taking red wood, making a platform something like 40 feet deep and then building this four-story building on top of
it. and you know what, when the great earthquake came in the 20th century, that building with stood the earthquake. why, because it moved. that building stayed okay until about the 1920s, 1930s when they had to inject cement to stabilize it, and then as only the americans can do, it was leveled for a parking lot. and if you want to know where it is today, take a look at san francisco, the trans-american tower, that's the spot where halleck's building exited. so he's an architect on top of everything. a major, major architect. but he's doing other things,
too. that's not enough to keep him busy. he also is an influential member, really the influential member of the california constitutional convention. he became also the director general, the guy who ran the operation, of a major quick silver mine in california. you say big deal. but without that quick silver mine, the gold rush and the gold that was discovered could not be separated from the rock that it was in. so it's a very, very important role that he plays. he's also the inspector of california's lighthouses. he's a member of the first board of directioners of the society of california pioneers. and it is said although how how it disappears is beyond pea but he allegedly wrote a 700-page
history of california. this in his spare time. while he resigns from the army in 1864, halleck resigns so he can give his full attention to his law firm. and by the way, too, he's also president of the pacific and atlantic railroad, which ran from san francisco to san jose. i remember going to the bancroft library in the university of california and looking through the old card cat lg that was still being used. and they had a map of this railroad. i said, this is great. and i said could i have that. could i see that. next thing i know one of the people is coming out with a piece of plywood wider than this and wider than this with a map
glued to it showing that particular railroad. not a big deal. it's not a long distance from san jose to san francisco, but that was meant to be the end of the trance continental railroad. it never was, but that was the plan. so halleck was involved in that, too. and for good measure, he published several more books on land law. he wrote one on international law that was in textbooks and colleges and universities in the united states into the 20th century. and for good measure he was also a major general of the california militia. so that's not bad for one person to do in that short period of time. well, there's a problem. i've given you a lot of successes and i've told you how many people thought he was a total loser. and it didn't take me long even
as dumb as i am, but it didn't take me long to figure out there's a difference between the halleck in the pre-civil war years and the halleck in the civil war years. there was a matter he was a success at one time, he say a failure at another time. well, it was january i'm guessing about 2000 or so -- 1999, but i'm giving a talk about halleck. the civil war education convention has a symposium. i gave a talk and confessed to the audience i really didn't know much about halleck and didn't understand why he had such a contrasting personality,
successful yet a failure it seems. so i asked these people, and i said spread the word. i'm writing letters to the editors all over the place asking for any information on henry halleck, particularly this question of why he's a success and then he's a failure. well, it didn't take long. i just about finished and it just so happened in that audience there were several medical doctors. at least four that i talked to, anyway. and there were others because they said they had talked to others, too. but several of them individually came up to me after the talk and asked had i thought about the possibility that halleck had graves disease. graves disease is a thyroid gland problem. maybe this is why there's such a difference between success and
failure. and i had admitted i never thought about that, never thought about the physical, medical stuff like that. but i said i'm going to sure look into it. so what these physicians and these people at this conference urged me to do and i did was to consider the impact of health on halleck's behavior. and so what i started doing as i was doing my research, i started making a list -- making a list of symptoms that he talked about at various times. and i also talked to some medical doctors. and i also got to thinking, you know, maybe there's something there psychological that i ought to be looking at. so i also talked to some psychologists and people who worked with this kind of thing. and it was a big thrill because one of these people was my own
son and has a practice and teaches and all. so it was great to listen to people talk about that. well, i learned pretty quickly this man had a lot of physical problems. and my wife is not able to be here with me. she always comes to these things. and she always starts to cringe if i talk about halleck because she knows i'm going to say this. one of the big problems halleck had was he had hemorrhoids. don't talk about that. oh, for hefbs sake. they called them piles in those days, but you know what i'm getting at. anyways, in those days the common medical thing to do if you had hemorrhoids and if you went to a physician is that you would -- they would give you an
opium suppository. now, i leave it up to your imaginations from this point on. but in this case, that's what they did with halleck. he went to a doctor. he was so sick with hemorrhoids during the war that he literally could not stand up. he had to lie down sideways on a couch for a week or so until he got over all of this stuff. so opium suppositories. well, i found other things, too, not as glamorous as that. but i found other things, too. so i consulted with these medical people and these psychologists and all. and several of them are mentioned in my book. and if you really, really want to be bored, i have this that i wrote up about my conversations with them and with what halleck had and didn't have and all the
rest. but in this case, what i came up with, is no, he did not have graves disease. it looks like he suffered, looking at the whole range of his physical background, he suffered from something called hemachromeitosis. as some of you know it's a iron retention problem which can cause lassitude, a variety of other innervating symptoms. well, there was one other thing. some you know who jean baker is. she wrote book on lincoln. i was talking to her and her husband happened to be there. and he was chief of surgery at john hopkins. you ought to look at murkary
poisoning because he was in charge of this murkary thing. and i did. he sent me all sorts of learned articles, some of which i understood. but the point was i didn't think it was murkary poisoning. hemachromeitosis seemed to be the issue. ask then another issue really struck me right between the eyes, psychological issues. he suffered from terrible psychological problems because of his very bad relationship with his father and with his family. with his father when he left to live with the maternal grandfather, he never came back. he wrote letters to his mother, never mentioned the father, never came to his funeral. so there was this very, very big break. but in any case -- and then there were other issues. he was actually born a twin.
but the girl whose name was catherine, same name as his mother, died in childbirth. and some of the psychologists say there is a psychological trauma that develops in cases like that where people blame themselves for being why am i living, why did she die and her name is the same name as my mother. so there's a lot and other issues involved. so what i'm saying here is halleck did not become a failure suddenly in the civil war. that the seeds of these wartime problems were evident even during the time of his success. now, it's much more complicated as you can imagine. so what i'm going to do is shamelessly tell you, buy the book and read all about it. and i'll be happy to talk about
it anytime. and be sure you buy one for your neighborhood physician and psychologist because i think that would be nice, too. so what can i say, finally. just who was this old brains halleck. again, its it's my interpretation. he was many things. he was a success in life but also a failure. he was a very brilliant man, but he was also stupid. they weren't making some of these things up. he had very few friends. yet he had many important acquaintances, both in his military and business lives. he inspired the deepest animosity in people. he was a nasty human being, no question about this. yet he never tried to adjust his
behavior to mollify his critics. one of the doctors that i consulted when we talked about the hemorrhoid problem, he said i don't think -- i wouldn't say hemorrhoids would cause him to be a failure in a civil war. but it could explain, and i quote him, could explain why he was such a mean son of a bitch. so it seems to me that he certainly played a major role in the union victory, no question in my mind. but i think he's a lot like rodney -- and that's too bad. because we can learn a lot from this man who was one of the major americans of the 19th century.
thank you very much. [ applause ] >> as you know, i wear a hearing aid, so i'd love to sw answer any question you have, but if you do, yell them at me because i may not hear you. >> the floor mics are open for questions. >> i have to ask this question. who was hated more? braxten brag or henry halleck? >> i think braxten brag was even more hated. you know the famous story of the first historian writing his biography of braxten brag, getting to hate him so much, he never wrote a second volume and made one of his graduate students do it.
but then i did the biography of halleck, so what does that same about me. i don't know. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> at the very beginning of your lecture you mentioned that after halleck came to washington he was involved in every major decision. can you think of any player even opening it up to north or south, that could have done his job almost as well or as well or maybe even better than he did. >> good question. everybody hear that? yeah. is there anybody else that could have done that job? i'm sure there was. but sometimes people say, you know, lincoln really blew it when he appointed halleck instead of grant to be commanding general in 1862.
i don't think so. i don't think grant would have been -- i don't think grant would have done the job. i think grant grew into that position. sherman couldn't have done it. the thing about halleck was he was somehow able -- even though it steamed people because he wouldn't make decisions -- he would say look, you're the commander on the battlefield. i can't do this. but the result was oftentimes the decision was -- even when people asked him like bernstein did, he wouldn't answer. but could there have been anybody else? i don't know of anybody. and keep in mind one of the happiest days of henry halleck's life is when lincoln named grant to be commanding general because now he's free. he doesn't have to make these
decisions. what he can do is and he does it is he writes letters saying well, general grant says you've got to shape up or we're going to get rid of you. so he's very happy to do that, but i don't really know of anybody else. that's one of the problems. it's easy for us as was said in the earlier session, easy for us to be critical but we're not wearing those same shoes. yeah. >> i read the book and i enjoyed it, and i'd like to check my understanding with you as far as his relationship with grant. it seems to me as though at first he figured grant wasn't doing the paperwork correctly and that's why grant was a lousy general in his eyes. and it seemed to me as though he thought he had taught grant how to do the paperwork correctly and that's why grant turned into a success. is that true? >> yes and no. your first part i think is
correct. halleck can't believe that grant can be so sloppy with his paperwork. and it's true. halleck not only tried to teach grant but all his other generals. there's a very famous letter that grant has sent to all his chief of staff saying this is the way i want you to fold letters when you send them to me. and you're right. he doesn't think grant is a good general because he's so sloppy. for example, halleck defends grant after shiloh. but he still calls him out on the carpet and says you really screwed up. afterwards, you've been sloppy. you've done nothing to get things organized. and the interesting thing is
that halleck when he and mcclellan are talking about grant, brings up the fake news, the fake news of grant being a drunk. and grant doesn't know this. he doesn't know this until adam, his aide is writing his history and grant is helping him and they come across the letters to make this point. that's it. that's it. anything else? >> can you comment on his relationship with abraham lincoln and what lincoln thought about him? >> good question. ac abraham lincoln, he said of course i have to like him because if i don't like him, nobody will. lincoln is very frustrated by halleck for this reason.
he brings halleck onboard because lincoln is smart enough to know he doesn't know a whole lot about military stuff. of course, he knows a lot more than he thinks. and by the end of the war, he's teaching his generals. but at this particular time lincoln wants somebody learned in the is military skills to be at his side to help him organize the union war effort. i want you to tell me what i should do. and halleck won't do it. he just simply takes the position -- in fact, he almost resigns. he offers to resign. if you make me tell you what i think ought to be done, i'll e resign. and lincoln throws up his understood that this is it, this is the best i got, this guy knows his stuff, maybe i can teach him, maybe i can work him
in to say some things but lincoln is not a great supporter -- well, he's a supporter of halleck but i wouldn't say they were close and halleck had a very dour personality, as we've talked about, so i don't know. yes, sir? >> i have an education in engineer, i can see the engineer in halleck all the way from what you've said about his biography. also the fact that he had that hemorrhoid problem tells you that he would not have been a good general in the field, going with a combat army and trying to direct it in combat. >> that's right. that's very true. you don't see halleck in the saddle very often, let's just put it that way. [ laughter ] . there's some great -- as you probably know, and harold can tell you more about this than i know but at the beginning of the
war particularly, there were stock images of everything but a person's head with horses doing all sorts of wonderful things and so there is a picture of halleck in the saddle but he's not a battlefield general. he -- his -- his corinth campaign comes down the fact that he's going to make sure there's going to be no surprise, he's going to make sure that everything he does is according to the book. and yet the interesting thing is by the end of the war, maybe it's sherman, maybe it's grant, maybe it's lincoln have taught halleck that war has changed. you've got to change. you've got to take a different approach and so you have halleck saying things at the end of the war that he would never say at the beginning of the war, but he's -- no, there's not any
relationship. yes, sir. >> good morning, sir. i just have to compliment you on how much appreciate your talk this morning. it's nice to see somebody peel back the onion, look at a person's entire life, successes, failures, contributing factors. too many of us are quick to be critical of people without knowing the facts and again as time goes back trying to find all the facts that contributed to a person's life, their successes and failures so i wanted to compliment you on that. appreciate it. >> i've often thought about that. you've heard of the great man theory of history. . one of the things beh s we hist do is we tend to look for perfection and maybe a better thing for us to do would be maybe to look at ourselves. you know, we're good at something, all of us have got some skills that we're good at but i don't know of any human
being that's good at everything that is going to be absolutely perfect at everything and i think sometimes with people like halleck, that's what we expect, we expected since he was -- and by the way, i didn't even mention, he was probably one of the wealthiest guys in the united states. he was worth over $500,000 when the civil war began -- money he had made and all these other things but we expect that -- we expect somebody to be good at everything and we don't expect our people, the people we study to have flaws and certainly halleck had flaws, certainly lincoln had flaws, everybody has flaws. the question is what do we do with it? how do we overcome what flaws we have to make achievements to do things that we ask to do at a particular time? so thank you very much, appreciate your attention. [ applause ]
friday night on american history tv, day three of the gettysburg college civil war institute conference, including lectures on union general george mead and the experiences of escape union prisoners of war. watch it here on c-span 3 at 8:00 p.m. eastern time. >> c-span's coverage of the solar eclipse on monday starts at 7:00 a.m. eastern with the washington journal live at nasa's goddard space flight center in green belt, maryland. our guests are sean goldman, a nasa research space scientist and jim garvin, the chief scientist at goddard. at noon, we join nasa tv as they provide live views of the eclipse shadow passing over north america and at 4:00 p.m. eastern, viewer reaction to this
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